One prominent leader to skip the Congress-initiated Opposition meeting on the Citizenship Amendment Act was Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal.
This is in line with the Aam Aadmi Party’s “cautious” approach on the protests against the CAA, despite voting against the Act in the House.
Except for a tweet by Delhi Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia against Delhi Police’s attack on Jamia Millia Islamia’s students, the only AAP leader to openly support the anti-CAA protesters is Okhla MLA Amanatullah Khan.
Khan played a key role in securing the release of the Jamia students detained by Delhi Police in December as well as a few protesters who had been detained in Seelampur earlier this week.
Now, Khan is a member of AAP’s political affairs committee and the party’s most prominent Muslim face. So it’s quite likely that his actions have Kejriwal’s direct backing.
However, Kejriwal himself hasn’t made any public statement in support of the protests. He is also downplaying criticism of the CAA. On the occasions that he did speak out, he gave an economic rationale for his opposition.
So, what explains this silence?
The answer lies in arithmetic. BJP won a massive mandate in Delhi in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, with 56.6 percent of the votes. The only way AAP can win Delhi is by winning over a large proportion of these voters.
There’s another aspect to this. A large number of voters in Delhi may actually prefer Prime Minister Narendra Modi in power at the Centre and Arvind Kejriwal in Delhi.
‘Modi as PM, Kejriwal as CM’ Is a Common Sentiment
According to the Lokniti-CSDS survey in Delhi after the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, 24 percent of BJP voters at the Lok Sabha level said they preferred AAP at the state level. Since BJP got above 56 percent votes, this comes to a substantial percentage of around 13.6 percent, not much lower than AAP’s overall vote share of 18 percent.
Merely the shift of this chunk of BJP voters can lead AAP’s vote share to increase to over 30 percent.
A similar proportion – one-fourth – of Congress’ 2019 Lok Sabha voters also said that they plan to vote for AAP at the state level. But since Congress’ overall vote share was much lower than that of BJP, AAP’s dependence on shifting BJP voters is much greater than it is on shifting Congress voters.
If one combines the Assembly voting intention of respondents in the CSDS post-poll survey with the actual vote share in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, it turns out that 40 percent of those who said they will vote for AAP in Delhi had voted for BJP at the Centre.
Put simply, two in five Kejriwal voters, according to the survey, are also Modi voters.
On the one hand, the bulk of respondents who said they plan to vote for BJP or Congress at the state level had also voted for these parties at the national level. These seem to be committed party voters.
A majority of AAP voters, on the other hand, voted for either BJP or Congress at the Centre, which means that they see it largely as a regional party or a person-centric party and not a national option.
This kind of split voting isn’t uncommon in Delhi.
In the 1998 Lok Sabha elections, Delhi gave six seats to the Atal Bihari Vajpayee-led BJP and one to Congress. But it voted for Sheila Dikshit-led Congress in the Assembly elections the same year. The next year when Lok Sabha elections were held, that too after the Kargil Conflict, BJP swept Delhi under Vajpayee’s leadership.
This pattern was repeated again a decade and a half later. In the 2013 Assembly polls, BJP got 33 seats and AAP won 28 but barely a few months later, BJP swept all seven seats in the Lok Sabha polls in a Modi wave. And less than a year later, AAP won 67 out of 70 seats under Kejriwal in the 2015 Assembly polls.
Another important section for Kejriwal are the undecided voters. According to the Lokniti-CSDS survey, close to 15 percent voters were undecided about the Assembly polls. And over 60 percent of them had just voted for Modi in the Lok Sabha polls.
Who Are the Floating Voters?
So, based on the Lokniti-CSDS survey, 24 percent of those who voted for the BJP in the Lok Sabha elections may shift to AAP. Add BJP Lok Sabha voters who are undecided about the Assembly polls, and it could mean that the BJP may lose over 30 percent of its Lok Sabha voters to AAP.
This is around the same quantum of votes BJP lost in Haryana, Maharashtra and Jharkhand between the Lok Sabha and Assembly elections in 2019.
So what else do we know about the voters who vote for Modi at the Centre but Kejriwal in Delhi? These are some inferences we could make:
- These are mostly non-ideological voters and voters who are not committed to any one political party
- They are more likely to favour a strong personality at the helm – hence Modi as PM and Kejriwal as CM
- Being personality-based and not ideological voters, they are unlikely to be affected either way by the Citizenship Amendment Act and the protests against it. But many of them may not be comfortable with a very adversarial stand to Modi’s.
- Many of them could have developed a dislike towards Congress from the end of UPA-2, which persists even now.
- These are mostly Hindu voters, but not majorly affected by communal issues.
- Economic issues like unemployment and price rise could be important factors for these set of voters. And if at all there has been a fall in BJP’s popularity among these voters, it is because of these issues.
Hence, by steering clear of the CAA, Kejriwal is trying to ensure that the Modi voters who said they will vote for him in the Assembly polls don’t change their mind.
The last point – on the economy – is crucial. Based purely on the voting intention after the Lok Sabha polls, there appears to be a 14 percentage point shift from BJP to AAP. But if there has been a fall in Modi’s popularity due to unemployment and price rise – the shift could be much higher.
The CVoter opinion poll in the first week of January indicated that AAP is getting over 50 percent of the votes in Delhi. This is much beyond the voting intention just after the Lok Sabha polls, as per CSDS. If the CVoter poll is correct, BJP could be losing half of its voters from the Lok Sabha polls. In that case, it wouldn’t just be a “state vs centre” factor, it could mean resentment against the Modi government as well.
Can Silence on CAA Harm Kejriwal?
This is an important question, especially as the Congress has gone to town slamming Kejriwal for not taking a position in support of anti-CAA protests.
Congress’ target are Muslim votes which it had lost to Kejriwal in 2015.
Muslim voters in Delhi also appear to have voted tactically. According to the Lokniti-CSDS survey, 78 percent Muslims in Delhi voted for AAP in the 2015 Assembly polls and 66 percent voted for Congress in the 2019 Assembly polls.
So, it was expected that they would return to AAP in the Assembly polls again. The Lokniti-CSDS survey after the 2019 Lok Sabha polls said that 5.6 percent voters, or one in four Congress voters, could shift from Congress to AAP in the Assembly polls.
It is likely that Muslims form a major chunk of these voters.
But will this shift be prevented because of Kejriwal’s silence on CAA?
Perhaps the answer would lie in a seat-by-seat analysis.
An AAP MLA like Amanatullah Khan may be able to hold his ground because of his personal appeal and the fact that he has supported anti-CAA protesters.
The same goes for Shoaib Iqbal – the veteran from Matia Mahal – who recently shifted from Congress to AAP. Besides having come out in support of the protesters, Iqbal has been a five-time MLA with strong local support in his constituency.
However, it may make matters a bit difficult for AAP in seats like Seelampur and Mustafabad, where a large number of people were detained by the police in connection with the protests. In both these areas, local Congress leaders like Chaudhary Mateen Ahmed and Hasan Ahmed were far more proactive in helping out than AAP’s leaders.
Congress may also be able to win some support of Muslims in seats like Kalkaji due to Subhash Chopra’s efforts in support of detained protesters. But beyond these handful of seats, it is likely that Muslim voters may choose to back AAP due to Kejriwal’s work or to defeat BJP.
So by remaining silent on CAA, Kejriwal has taken a calculated risk. It may cost AAP a handful of constituencies but it could help Kejriwal win a big chunk of Modi voters who are crucial for him to win a second term.
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